My First Mother’s Day

I remember when my best friend told me her mother didn’t want her kids to observe Mother’s Day. This was a family at my childhood church and, for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why a woman so like my own mother disapproved of a day whose purpose was to thank and honor her. My friend said that her mother thought children should honor their mothers every day, not just on a day exploited to sell cards and flowers. I couldn’t disagree with this. But I also couldn’t see a problem with also having a special day to show my own mom honor and gratitude for how wonderful she was.

Since my daughter’s recent birth (a month and a half ago), I see this from a new perspective. Not that I’m ready to cancel Mother’s Day celebrations, but I’m also not so confident in my new role as mom that I’m eager to have a day celebrating my motherhood.

Being a mom was always a dream for me, in large part because of the wonderful mother and grandmothers I had. Their hard work in raising and loving their families showed me the difference a strong mother makes in her child’s life. Both my grandmothers bore and raised children during the baby boom after World War Two—a time of great prosperity and change in America. Somehow, both balanced careers with children, kept a clean house, cooked and kept food in the house, and made their houses homes where their children felt secure and loved. Homemade dinners and the ritual of the family table were part of everyday life, and going to church every Sunday was a given.

My mother continued, indeed extended, these practices. She homeschooled my siblings and me, canned produce, and taught us the rhythms and details of home economics. We had firm rules, but Mom made our home warm and affectionate within that structure. Simple, everyday things like family dinners and exploring our wooded yard built and reinforced delightful core memories that strengthen me to this day.

From my mother and grandmothers—women who were deeply loyal to their families—I received a strong legacy of homemaking. They made their homes refuges of real peace for their families. This didn’t shield them completely from life’s difficulties: each experienced deep heartaches. These heartaches could have shattered the homes they had built. Yet each woman, in her own way, clung to her faith and family, resisting any surrender to the pull of tragedy.

As I weighed career options and struggled to answer questions about my own vocation, I realized my deepest desire was to do what my grandmothers and mother had done: to build a home that was a refuge and refreshment to others, where love was abundant, and family strong.

For many years this was a hope deferred, and I sometimes doubted it’d ever be realized. But after many years of waiting, in God’s providence (and to my great surprise and delight) I met and married a wonderful man who was the answer to my prayers, and the faithful prayers of my family and friends. After years of being the token single woman among wives and mothers, I was a wife making a home with a new husband. And while we often butted heads along the way as we merged homes and habits built over many single years (learning to work around inadequate shelf space for our book collections was a particular challenge for this librarian), my new life was still immensely good.

Yet for some reason, in the midst of the joys of this new life, I still expected difficulty with the next step of having children. I assumed God would say “no” to this hope, if not permanently, at least over months or years of struggles. So many friends had fought and struggled to have children, and I expected to join their ranks. My husband and I were both on the “older” side of the recommended age to conceive children, and before meeting, both of us had contemplated that we may never have a child. Perhaps, like Elizabeth and Zechariah, a child would arrive only long after everyone gave up hope.

So I was pleasantly shocked to find that, soon after we started trying to conceive, my husband and I were expecting a baby. A little girl was growing inside me. As I prepared for our daughter’s birth by making lists of repairs to complete, items to buy, and things I couldn’t eat or do while pregnant, I couldn’t grasp that this was real. How could I be a mother? Did God really think I was up to this? I was just figuring out how to keep the house relatively clean, get laundry done, and prepare meals while working part time. Add a tiny human to the mix and these routines would be shattered. Also, moms had answers. I didn’t. I can’t imagine explaining to a little girl where babies come from, or why bad things happen to good people. Finally, moms made everything good and safe. They could find anything, and were always prepared with bags of snacks, sunscreen, and bug spray. That didn’t seem like me.

Whether I was ready made little difference to our little girl, who was born nine days before her due date. She didn’t dally in delivery either; labor went so quickly the physicians had no time to administer pain relief. After regularly watching Call the Midwife and hearing those midwives declare every birthing mother clever and brave, I was a little dismayed to feel more like I’d been strapped onto a fast-moving roller coaster with only the option of hanging on for dear life until the ride was over. When my daughter made her appearance, I instantly understood why women so quickly forget the pain for relief and joy. Suddenly nothing mattered except her head, her loud cries, and her dad’s smile. A little squalling stranger rested on my chest, and I cherished saying her name again and again.

I wondered how mother-love would come on me. Would there be an immense surge that made my heart swell? Would it be the greatest happiness I had ever known? Those feelings may come, but I have found that this love has come quietly, though it is still fierce and tenacious. This little one is part of me. She has blue eyes like mine and dark hair like my husband. We think she is going to be stubborn (she gets that from both of us), and I want so much to give her a place of comfort and love.

Motherhood is hard. That is something I know my grandmothers would have said, and my mom has not shown. Yet one phrase my mom repeated to me soon after we brought our baby home has stuck with me. She told me what it had been like to keep up with feeding and caring for me as an infant. I hadn’t understood until then what that really meant, and I was blown away by how much my mom went through. She looked me in the eyes and said, “You were worth the work, and so is your little girl.” The trials of having a baby are many, and the joys are many too.

My daughter is worth the work—the hours and days of nursing, rocking, and soothing. My grandmothers believed that their children were worth the work. My mom believed that my siblings and I were worth the bedrest and infinite work we gave her. I’m starting to experience just how much my daughter is worth the work of bearing and raising her. The greatest work of my life is nurturing this little one in the love of God and the comfort of our family.

So as Mother’s Day approaches, like my mother and grandmothers, I will enjoy the cards and flowers and words of thanks. Whatever my first Mother’s Day as a mom includes, I hope above all to honor my mother and grandmothers by carrying on their work by loving my daughter and husband. Whether I am up to this work, I trust that the God who has been faithful to answer my prayers thus far will bring this new, great work to completion as well.

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